Phil and Lesia Hamaker grew up on small farms. Each of their grandparents grew up in a time when almost everyone had a garden to help feed their large families. So they inherited their love for farming at a young age. Their first farm was a 10-acre hog operation (farrow to finish) and 5 acres of tomatoes. Since then, they’ve cleared more land for cattle and timber production. Poultry replaced the hogs. And a variety of fruits and vegetables grow in high tunnel houses almost year-round. Because of their successes on and off the farm, Phil and Lesia of Junction City are the 2015 Union County Farm Family of the Year and the 2015 Southwest District Farm Family of the Year.
Phil and Lesia’s cow/calf operation has 170 breeding females and eight breeding males. They market the cattle through private contracts and area sale barns. The Hamaker’s use a 300-day rotational grazing program. It alleviates pressure on forages and soils. It also reduces production costs and concerns associated with drought conditions. They’ve improved the nutritional quality of their pastures by planting more clover and legumes to stabilize soil. Because of the success with the 300-day grazing program, the Hamaker’s farm is a University of Arkansas demonstration farm.
A present goal is increasing the cattle herd from 180 to 250. They’re converting 100 acres of recently purchased land to pasture land. Besides drought, their biggest battle is with feral hogs destroying grass, ponds and timberland. They must regularly monitor and control the wild hogs through hunting and trapping to prevent further damage to their farm.
Lesia manages the two high tunnel houses where she grows strawberries, tomatoes, squash and cucumbers. She markets the produce at local businesses, farmers markets and on the farm. She uses drip tape irrigation for water conservation. They recently added the second tunnel house along with a hot house. The hot house enables them to use seeds rather than having to purchase mature plants. The Hamakers plan to continue expanding this portion of the farm. Leisa is a member of the Arkansas MarketMaker, which connects her to consumers seeking to buy fresh, local produce.
In addition to the cattle and produce, the Hamakers have four poultry houses and a 40-acre pine plantation. Replacement males fill one poultry house and the other three are pullet houses. Each house holds 12,000 birds, which are replaced twice a year.
Phil is a member of the Arkansas Cattlemen’s Association, serves as a county 4-H leader and sponsors numerous mission trips. Lesia, a registered nurse, serves on the Union County Farm Bureau board. They have three children, Ashlyn, Kyle and Tiffany. Ashlyn is active in 4-H and FFA where she has beef, horse and gardening projects. She shows beef cattle and is currently serving as the Union county horse queen.
Calf Slobber Cake or Estelle’s Chocolate Cake
“It’s called Calf Slobber Cake or Estelle’s Chocolate Cake, named after my (Lesia’s) grandma, Estelle Risinger. She called it her Calf Slobber, Cake because the icing always reminded her of what a calf’s mouth looked like when it was drinking from its mom, all white and fluffy. She never went by a recipe or measured anything. My mom used to watch her make it and wrote down how she did it, which is why the buttermilk says ‘a cup and a little more.’ My grandma used to make the biggest messes when she cooked and would have flour everywhere. Now, when we make this cake, we go ahead and toss a little flour up in the air. It makes us laugh thinking back to my grandma’s kitchen.”